Edgar Rice Burroughs

TarzanI am in the midst of an uncharacteristic urge to read everything that Edgar Rice Burroughs has written: at least eighty novels and other pieces of fiction. The way I see it, I could dedicate the time to reading all six volumes of My Struggle or have a bit more fun knocking off the more well known series like Tarzan and John Carter and maybe a smattering of the less known series like Pellucidar and Caspak. Could I do both?

Burroughs is one of the most well known American authors, translated and read around the world. I read my first Tarzan in Spanish over fifty years ago and even though I probably didn’t finish the book, I was intrigued. Then there were all those Tarzan movies and television shows to keep the image alive, despite so many being horribly racist and often down-right silly. The recent Disney movie John Carter, despite being awful, introduced me to the Barsoom series and like Tarzan, I think I will read all of the novels (even if only in the bathroom).

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What do we do with JCO?

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the more prolific writers in the world but despite her academic credentials and prestigious placement at Princeton, is she really an author that will withstand the rigors of time and changes in public (let alone academic) opinion?

Is it possible that the amount of quality writing is somehow a finite commodity and no matter how hard they might try, authors generally cannot exceed their threshold? Let’s look at a few prolific authors and test that hypothesis. Here is my list, although you might want to consider other writers too:

  • Georges Simenon
  • Honoré de Balzac
  • Alexander Dumas
  • Stephen King
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Joyce Carol Oates.

Right off the top I see we can eliminate two authors, not because they disprove the conjecture, but because consideration of their works doesn’t require great thought or effort. First, Edgar Rice Burroughs and his ilk probably never approached the threshold of greatness, but rather should be measured on a different scale, one involving fun. Stephen King, however, is possibly a candidate for consideration but it is immediately obvious that he has never dipped a sentence in the pool of good writing so we can hardly expect to find anything worth saving, let alone reading, in his works.

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